FAA: Florida County's Commercial Use Of Drone Unauthorized

COCOA BEACH, Florida -- According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Brevard County was unauthorized to use a drone to produce a tourism promotional video.

The video shows aerial footage taken by a drone over the Cocoa Beach Pier, The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and Port Canaveral.  The video appears on Florida's Space Coast's YouTube page that is linked by VisitSpaceCoast.com, a tourism website owned by Brevard County's Tourism Development Council which administers the spending of Brevard County's bed tax.

"A person needs to obtain authorization from the FAA before using a UAS [unmanned aircraft system] for a commercial purpose," an FAA spokesperson said in an email to Brevard Times.  "Authorization could be in the form of a Certificate of Authorization, or an exemption to parts of the FAA's regulations.  To date the FAA has only authorized commercial operations in the Arctic.  Public entities, e.g.,  a county government, can use UAS for a governmental function, such as law enforcement, search and rescue, or biological or geological resource management, as described in the public aircraft statute.   The FAA would not consider filming a promotional video to be a governmental function under the law.  Additionally, public aircraft operations cannot be conducted for compensation."

But Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox contends that the County's drone use was lawful.  "Based on our research, it appears that compliance with FAA orders prohibiting commercial use of drones is voluntary at this time, since an administrative law judge [in Huerta v. Pirker] has declared drones like those used by the company filming the promotional video to be unregulated model aircraft, within the meaning of federal laws and FAA regulations," Knox said.

"The FAA appealed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge in the Pirker case to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which has the effect of staying the decision," the FAA spokesperson said of Knox's legal analysis.

"Commercial UAS must be operated according to FAA regulations and need to be authorized by the FAA," the FAA spokesperson said. "Congress created special rules for people who want to fly model aircraft for hobby or recreational purposes - but specified that the FAA may take enforcement action if model aircraft are flown in such a way as to endanger the National Airspace System.  (Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95)).  Commercial uses, and other non-hobby or recreational uses, do not qualify under the special rule for model aircraft."

The most widely-publicized incident of commercial drone use also occurred in Brevard County.  During Spring Training earlier this year, the Washington Nationals made national headlines when the team posted drone photos taken at the Space Coast Stadium on their Twitter account.  The FAA investigated the incident and the Washington Nationals voluntarily agreed to no longer use drones for commercial purposes.

Image credit: Video still from VisitSpaceCoast.com YouTube video.

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